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Nostalgia for Inky Fingers

April 27, 2010

Average weekday newspaper readership is down 9 percent nationally. The New York Times readership is down 5 percent. The only major paper with an increase in circulation is the Wall Street Journal, which was up 1 percent during the period.

Steep circulation declines for newspapers aren’t new. It’s been going on for years with an attendant retrenchment in the ranks of news staff.  For those of us who grew up on newspapers and are news junkies, it is a sobering development. You have to wonder what things are coming to when less than a third of citizens identify newspapers as their chief source of information.

What were coming to is, well, you’re reading it – the internet. And we have mixed thoughts about this phenomenon. The internet makes it possible for folks like us to express our views. It can be a vehicle for generating constructive debate, but …   

The big but is this: There’s no longer a mechanism for ensuring that “everyman” is well-informed. The great thing about newspapers was that they had sports pages, biz pages and society pages. There were even comics for kids. And when kids grabbed the paper looking for Charlie Brown or Beatle Bailey they couldn’t help but catch the headlines, too.

Today there’s no real equivalent to this on the internet or on TV or radio, and the effects are profound. In this regard, one of our editorial board members heard a radio advertisement the other day. The ad encouraged people to listen to the radio. It featured the voice of a young woman for whom radio was a cool new thing:  “Sometimes it’s nice not knowing which song you’re going to hear next.”  Explanation: Young people today program their Ipods with the music they know and like. They are their own DJs.

With total personal control of what you are listening to, there’s little or no introduction of new material or for that matter, news. As a result, young people today are literally in their own electronic world.

Alas, we’re sure that when Tiberius did away with the news announcer on the Aventine in 20 BC, Roman parents were making the similar complaints. Still, we can’t help thinking the younger generation is becoming less informed and more insular. Young people today are really missing out in not reading newspapers. We all are.

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